I’ve been a parent for a long time and a grandparent for a much shorter time. But whether I’m talking with my 30-something sons or my 3½-year-old granddaughter, it’s pretty clear that everyone is dealing with unusually high levels of stress and anxiety right now.
As adults, we’ve hopefully had years to hone our own personal set of coping skills that we can draw on when things are tough. My go-to remedies for handling stress like hugs, talking it out, sitting under one of my trees, or having a good cry work most of the time. When they don\’t, I just go with it and have a low-key, self-care-filled day.
But what about our kids, who don’t have the benefit of experience from riding storms for decades? Whether they’re toddlers or college-age, there are some simple but powerful tactics to support them ongoingly, as well as in moments of panic. Shared below are some parenting tips to get you started that can be adapted in lots of age-appropriate ways.
Here Are 6 Parenting Tips to Help Your Children with Stress:
Spend Meaningful Time Together
Play board games or cards together. Snuggle up and get engrossed in a great book. One of my brothers started reading the Harry Potter books with his two girls several years ago, and they’re still going strong, even at ages 11 and 12.
Another sure-fire way to calm everyone’s nerves is just to MOVE together. Put on some great music and shake your bootie! Another option is to find a yoga, gym, or dance class online that matches your child’s age level. The idea is to get them (and you) out of your heads where all that worry resides and shake some of it off physically.
When you can blend that movement with outdoor activity, you’ve got the perfect stressbuster. One of my nephews just started college which you can imagine is pretty strange right now with all the pandemic restrictions. When he was feeling particularly overwhelmed recently, his mom urged him to just go outside and DO something. So, he grabbed a friend for an energetic game of Ultimate Frisbee and reported that he felt much better afterward.
Whether it’s a brisk walk around the block, a pick-up basketball game, or Ultimate Frisbee, get your kids outside for some fresh air to clear away the cobwebs.
Help Them Feel Empowered
It’s stressful at any age to be bombarded with things that are out of your control. For children, especially younger ones, that’s just about everything since they’re still not equipped to manage their own lives yet.
When it comes to making any decisions, give them as many choices as you can so they feel like they have some semblance of control. And if they’re into super-heroes (who isn’t?), encourage them to “become” their favorite one and talk about what makes them strong and powerful. Then help think of ways they can bring that strength into their everyday lives.
This can be as simple as sitting with your little one (or even older ones) and just breathing with them. You can even introduce them to simple yoga poses; there are videos for every age, and it brings in that movement component as well.
One trick I found that worked powerfully when my sons were small was to get them to articulate what it was that they were most scared or worried about and create a mantra or affirmation to counteract that fear. Then I gave them a “magical stone” and they would hold it as they repeated that phrase. One particular mantra I remember was, “My family is safe, and we are well-protected” when our older son was anxious about something happening to one of us. It was amazing to see how that settled him down.
That same son has always felt things very deeply, and I’ve learned valuable lessons from him, even into adulthood! When he started a new middle school where he had to break into a new set of friends, he griped about one particular boy who loved teasing him and insisted that he had to switch schools. For weeks, I offered suggestions for ways he might deal with this kid, and then finally I just shut up and let him talk.
When he got to the part about changing schools, instead of trying to talk him out of it, I just said simply, “I’ll start looking into that.” I’m not sure what happened, but we never had the conversation again and he stayed happily at that school for the next 4 years. I like to think part of it was that he just wanted to be heard, not fixed. Sometimes our kids just need to vent to someone who cares, just like we do.
Model Extreme Self-Care
There’s an old adage that says something like “If mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” So, yes, when you take care of yourself on every level – mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually – you’re definitely more able to be fully present, patient, loving, and even playful with your children, no matter how old they are.
But equally important, those little eyes are always watching you very carefully and if they see that you’re binging on sugar, staying up way too late, being a couch potato in front of the TV, or OD’ing on video games, they’re getting the message that those are acceptable ways to deal with stress. Talk about healthy habits you can all commit to and create a reward system to encourage them.
Learning to navigate stress really is a family affair. As parents, we can guide our children, no matter how old they are, and set them up for life by listening, empowering them, relishing our playtime with them, and teaching them how to take care of themselves lovingly. It just makes everyone easier to live with in these challenging times!
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Life & Relationship Coach, Deborah Roth, MA is also a Counseling Astrologer, and Interfaith Minister. She leads women’s New Moon Circles and Full Moon TeleMeditations every month and loves designing creative, meaningful rituals for individuals and couples to energize their lives and relationships.